BI. Amy Lowell

The first book appearance of ‘Guns as Keys’ was in Can Grande’s Castle, 1918.

7. Guns as Keys: And the Great Gate Swings. Seven Arts 2 (August 1917): 428-51.

A lengthy exploration of the cultural traits of Japan and the United States at the time of Perry’s expedition. Lowell’s knowledge of Japanese history and art is impressive, and the work captures much of the ambivalence of both peoples at the opening of the ‘great gate’. Miner believes the poem ‘fails as literature’, but finds in it an important development in the use of Japanese subjects in American poetry. Whistler’s Japonisme, ukiyoe, and a ‘new knowledge of Japanese poetry and culture’, he argues, have in this poem and The Cantos (BK57) ‘passed out of the realm of technique and into a form of thought’, for the ‘techniques of imitation’ of poets such as Lowell and Pound had to be ‘rationalized’ in attempts to ‘assess the cultural import of the meeting of East and West’. Both Schwartz (28) and Kodama (A59) offer insightful analysis of Lowell’s sources (see D2 and D24), though neither notes that the title is adapted from Ficke’s Song of East and West (BG2), or that the repeated allusion to the ‘opening’ of Japan as a ‘Pandora’s box’ has antecedents in Whitman’s Broadway Pageant (see CA1). Reprinted in Can Grande’s Castle (New York: Macmillan, 1918; reprint, St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Books, 1972). For Lowell’s own comments about her intention in the work see 21, and see also 6, 20b, and 23.

a. Part I. Alternates a narrative account of Perry’s voyage with eleven verse descriptions of contemporary events in Japan, the latter of which are treated here as discrete works.

1. At Mishima in the Province of Kai. Schwartz (A18 and BI28) was the first to note that several passages in Guns as Keys are ‘manifestly verse reproductions’ of well known ukiyoe, and that this passage, for example, is an ‘exact reproduction’ of ‘Kôshû no Mishimagoe’, one of the Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai (Ap).

2. The road is hilly. Describes a night scene in summer along the road of the title, which a reference to the ‘Tiger Gate’ (Toramon) places as one of those leading into Edo.

3. Nigi-oi of Matsuba-ya. The poem explains that ‘Nigi-oi of Matsu-ba’ is the name of an oiran, a geisha in the Kansai district (see also BH7i). More precisely it would be the name of the woman and of the house for which she works, the Matsubaya, among the most noted in the Yoshiwara of the Edo period. The poem describes an assignation between the woman and her Mitsui-family patron, and his selling of her services to the Director of the Dutch Factory at Nagasaki. As in so many of Fletcher’s Japanese Prints (BH7) the focus of detail is the beauty of the woman’s kimono. Kodama notes that both Utamaro and Hosoda Eisui (fl. 1790-1823) depicted scenes from the Matsubaya in their prints, and speculates plausibly that one of these would have been Lowell’s source.

4. One hundred and sixty streets in the Sanno quarter. Well-realised description of the Sannô Festival held in mid-June in Edo, and continuing in alternate years in present-day Tokyo, at the premises of Hiejinja, the shrine that the Tokugawa (Ap) venerated as protector of the city.

5. The ladies. Description of courtesans who have come to Asakusa to view peonies.

6. A Daimio’s procession. Describes a procession of daimyô (daimyô gyôretsu) on its way to Edo to fulfil the obligation of the rule of sankin kôtai, whereby daimyô were required to spend alternate years in Edo. A peasant kneels with his forehead to the ground as the parade of shining spears, red coats, and ‘yellow mushroom hats’ passes. Miner suggests a source in Hiroshige’s (Ap) depiction either of Hakone or Okayama station in his Fifty-Three Stations of the Tôkaidô. See also a9 below.

7. Tiger rain on the temple bridge of carved green stone. Description of a temple scene in rain, the bells of the pagoda roofs, the ‘cheese-rounds of open umbrellas’, and the scattering peach blossoms.

8. The beautiful dresses. Schwartz traces Lowell’s depiction of a geisha dance to the description of an Utamaro print in Edmond de Goncourt’s Outamaro (see D7), but does not cite the passage. Compare Lowell’s ‘beautiful dresses / Blue, Green, Mauve, Yellow; / And the beautiful green pointed hats / Like Chinese porcelains’ with Goncourt’s ‘ces femmes coiffèes d’ètranges chapeaux pointus verts, oú le bleu, le vert, le mauve, le jaune rappellent la dècoration des porcelaines chinoises’ (1924 ed., Flammarion, p. 17). See also 4f.

9. Down the ninety-mile rapids. Another description of a daimyô gyôretsu, or procession of daimyô, on passage along the Tôkaidô to Edo to fulfil the sankin kôtai (see also a6 above). The reference to the ‘ninety-mile rapids / Of the Heaven Dragon River’ would be to the stretch of the Tenryû River through Tenryû gorge near the city of Iida. Includes reference to the ‘Shogun’s decree’ (sankin kôtai) and the idling away of the winter in the Yoshiwara.

10. Outside the drapery shop of Taketani Sabai. The ‘Arimitsu’ cloth of line 3 would be a corruption of Arimatsu shibori, cloth dyed in Arimatsu-cho, Nagoya, a district of tea shops that served travellers along the Tôkaidô and sold the traditional cloth. Perhaps brother Percival Lowell had sent a sash or a night-dress to his sister from a shop owned by a Taketani Sabai, for the detail, perfect as it is for the poem, seems too obscure to have found its way into an English-language publication of the period. Reference to the ‘Ono Falls’ on the Kisokaidô is perhaps to a waterfall on the Ibi River near the city of Ono in present day Gifu Prefecture, near which the Kisokaidô passed.

11. On the floor of the reception room of the Palace. It has not before been noted that this description of seppuku (ritual suicide) takes its details—the white quilt, two red rugs, screens of white paper, lanterns, the number and behaviour of attendants—from Mitford’s first-hand account of a seppuku published in 1871 in Tales of Old Japan (see D4), which notes as well that the ritual often took place in the ‘reception room’ of a ‘palace’. Lowell’s use of the material is restrained, and saves the poem from bathos, but Mitford’s prose, early as it is, follows more closely the dictates of what would come to be called Imagism, and remains more powerful, exact, and poignant.

b. Part II. Lowell’s description of the events surrounding Perry’s arrival at Uraga in July 1853 and his return to Kanagawa the following February, written in what she calls ‘polyphonic prose’ (read: narrative prose with frequent use of repeated images). The details are accurate and the grasp of period history thorough, though the narrative itself is often breathless. The reference to Perry writing in his cabin an ‘account of what he has done’ provides a certain source for the work. Perry’s journals and notes had been published in 1856 (D2). Kodama notes as well that Lowell’s friend August Belmont was Perry’s grandson, and had told the poet ‘many stories’ about the Commodore. Other sources are many, if not all ascertainable. The section includes reference to the poet and Neo-Confucian (shushigaku) scholar Hayashi Razan (1583-1657), Ise jingû, Kurihama, Kyoto, the ‘plum-trees of Kamata and Kinagawa’ (Kanagawa), ‘Princes’ of Idzu (Izu) and Iwami, ‘pupils’ of Hokusai who lampooned the ‘hairy devils’ (Perry’s men) in ukiyoe, Shinagawa, Shintô, temples at Shiba and Asakusa, Tokugawa Ieyoshi and Iesada (twelfth and thirteenth Tokugawa shoguns), and even to the Taira ghosts after the final and decisive battle of the Gempei wars (see BK21a). One can understand the confusion in a letter to Lowell from a Japanese admirer who praised the descriptions of Japan and inquired about the number of years she had lived in the country (see 27).

1. ‘Postlude’. Three sections, the first in verse, others in ‘polyphonic prose’, set in 1903, fifty years after Perry’s arrival at Uraga.

2. In the Castle moat, lotus flowers are blooming. Description of Edo castle grounds in moonlight, with the warriors of the previous century departed; Kodama notes that Lowell bequeathed a copy of La Farge’s (Ap) Letters from Japan (1897) to Harvard University Library, and argues convincingly that a sketch and description in that volume is the source of these lines.

3. 1903. Japan. Describes a young man’s suicide at Kegon Falls (Kegon no taki) after he had carved into the bark of a tree a message about the impossibility of understanding the universe. Lowell acknowledges in her preface that the suicide note is taken word for word from Naruse Seichi’s translation in ‘Young Japan’ (D24), and Naruse’s essay itself helps to explain the lines, which are unusually cryptic for Lowell. Naruse had noted that the suicide of the student of philosophy at a Tokyo high school had been like a ‘sudden peal of thunder’ for the older generation in Japan, for ‘to kill oneself because of a philosophical dilemma or a view of life was beyond the reach of their imagination’. The result was renewed fear that ‘western culture was poisonous’ and a renewed sense of the need to ‘[return] to the ancient Japan’, but ‘the outcry was too feeble to turn back the powerful trend of the times’. The suicide ‘was only too symbolic of the state of . . . Japanese youth’, and ‘the heavy flood of European culture was too overwhelming’. Lowell’s lines, then, are about the clash of Western and Japanese sensibilities in the fifty years after Perry landed at Uraga, and are sensitive to the loss experienced as the country underwent its ‘flood of European culture’. In this regard, her poem turns away from the optimism that characterised earlier American poems about the confluence of East and West, beginning with Whitman’s Broadway Pageant and continuing in the most ambitious poems of Fenollosa (see CA1), Ficke (BG2), Fletcher (BH7), and others.

4. 1903. America. Describes an exhibition of works by Whistler (Ap), identified by Ryan (39) as the 1904 Whistler Memorial Exhibition at Boston, attended by 41,000. The title of the first painting Lowell recalls, ‘Nocturne—Blue and Silver—Battersea Bridge’ is misremembered; she refers instead to the ‘Nocturne: Blue and Silver—Battersea Reach’ and not to Whistler’s painting of Battersea Bridge, based on Hiroshige’s ‘Fireworks at Ryôgoku Bridge’, which is the subject of a later Lowell poem (8z). Miner (A25) notes that these closing lines indicate the degree to which Whistler was associated with Japan, since his work is Lowell’s ‘sole example of what the West had learned . . . in fifty years of contact’ with the country, a point expanded upon in detail by Ryan.



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